Mavericks’ Rivas selected preseason RMAC special teams player of year

Dustin Rivas’ kick-blocking ability was evident last season when the Colorado Mesa defensive back blocked four kicks, including this one against Azusa Pacific, which clinched a playoff berth for the Mavs.

Special teams coaches had to keep a sharp eye on Dustin Rivas, who was seemingly everywhere last season.

He’s healthy again, so he’s hoping to make even more big plays for the Colorado Mesa football team.

The senior kick returner was voted the preseason RMAC special teams player of the year Thursday after his outstanding junior season. He blocked four kicks and returned a dozen punts for an average of 11.2 yards last season, leading the Mavericks to the conference championship and NCAA Division II playoffs.

Four blocked kicks is impressive enough, but it was his timing that set Rivas apart.

“I’m really just trying to do my assignment the best I can,” he said Thursday. “As the game goes on, some opposing teams blank out their assignments in crunch time, maybe are trying to do too much inside. In crunch time I’m always trying to find some way to change the game up and make a big-time play.

“It’s kind of like a movie sometimes, but I love those moments, I truly do. Late in the game, those are the moments people remember and I’ve been able to make those plays.”

Colorado Mines receiver Brody Oliver, who led all divisions of NCAA football with 26 touchdowns last season, was voted the RMAC offensive player of the year, and CSU-Pueblo linebacker Brandon Payer is the defensive player of the year.

The conference will release its preseason all-conference teams and coaches poll Monday morning at the annual RMAC football media day in Colorado Springs.

The Mavericks report on Aug. 6 and start fall practice the next day. The season kicks off Aug. 31 against Western State at Stocker Stadium.

Rivas blocked the extra point in the second overtime to end the Mavericks’ thrilling 41-40 victory at Colorado School of Mines, blocked a field goal attempt against Fort Lewis, and in a tie game against South Dakota Mines, smothered a field goal attempt. Tony Clark scooped up the ball and scored from 70 yards out to help the Mavericks rally for a 48-38 victory, clinching the RMAC title. The two teamed up again the next week on a fourth-quarter blocked field goal and scoop-and-score to secure the win over Azusa Pacific and a spot in the playoffs.

“It’s a tremendously well-deserved honor,” CMU coach Russ Martin said. “He’s been a great return person for us and he’s great at blocking kicks.

“I mean to tell you, (his big-play ability) couldn’t get scripted out much better.”

Three of his interceptions came against Chadron State, but perhaps his biggest pick came in the fourth quarter against CSU-Pueblo. Just after the Mavericks rallied to take a 20-19 lead, Rivas stepped in front of a Rex Dausin pass near midfield on fourth down, which allowed the Mavericks to run the clock down to less than one minute to play.

The ThunderWolves blocked the punt to give themselves a chance on their final drive. Rivas dragged Bernard McDondle down at the 2, preventing the go-ahead touchdown, with less than 20 seconds to play. The Mavericks stopped Dausin short of the goal line on two straight runs in the still-debated (in Pueblo) finish.

Rivas missed one game last season with ankle and shoulder injuries, and had surgery on his left shoulder in the spring.

“The AC joint was pretty destroyed,” said Rivas, who sat out of spring practice.

“After playing football for 18 years, it’s good to have time to focus on getting my body back to where it needs to be. I feel 100 percent fresh.”

He spent the summer in Denver working out with his high school coach and several friends who play college football. Rivas said he’s put on about 10 pounds, is running every day and can’t wait to get started.

“I know everybody within the program believes it. We’ve seen what’s going on, breaking records in the weight room, you feel it when people are truly buying in,” Rivas said.

“Winning the RMAC and being in the first round isn’t the end-all. We want to go further. We think we can make a deep run and hopefully will a national championship; that’s the ultimate goal.”


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